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In spring, for what seems like one fleeting and glorious moment, fiddlehead ferns appear. Fiddleheads are the furled fronds of young ferns, harvested for use as a vegetable before the fronds unroll. These delicate beauties taste similar to asparagus, with a nutty twist all of their own. Light, springtime dishes are the perfect place to use fiddleheads but remember–simple is best when it comes to eating them so that their unique taste and texture shine through.
Purchasing Fiddlehead Ferns
Ostrich ferns are the most common edible fiddle-ferns found in North America. Look for them in farmers’ markets and a growing number of grocery stores. In selecting fiddleheads, look for a tight coil and with an inch or two of the stem.
Handling Fresh Fiddleheads
Trim all but 2 inches of stem. Wash the fiddleheads in several changes of cold water to remove any dirt or grit. After draining them, lay them out flat on a clean towel to dry. Fiddleheads are best when fresh, but if you must store them, keep chilled and tightly wrapped to prevent drying out. Some sources say they may be kept refrigerated for up to two weeks, but I recommend using fiddleheads within a few days to enjoy them at their best and freshest.
Fiddlehead ferns are a wonderful source of vitamins A and C, contain healthy antioxidants, and omega-3, omega-6 essential fatty acids.
How to Use
Fiddleheads are versatile and fun to cook with. They pair beautifully with tomato sauce, vegan Hollandaise sauce, Asian cuisine, and are a seasonal surprise in any kind of mixed grain and veggie bowl. They are excellent marinated in vinegar and oil on top of a salad (boil or steam first, never eat them raw, see more below), and they can be used in many recipes that call for firm green vegetables such as asparagus, green beans or broccoli. Simple pasta dishes love fiddleheads and so would a lovely, fresh spring minestrone.
According to many sources, including The University of Maine (Food Safety Specialist Jason Bolton, Ph.D., Food Science Professor Alfred Bushway Ph.D., and Extension Professional David Fuller), fiddleheads can be safely cooked using two different methods, boiling and steaming.
Boiling: Bring lightly salted water in a pot to a rolling boil and add washed fiddleheads. The water should fully cover fiddleheads when added. Bring the water back to a steady boil and hold for 15 minutes.
Steaming: Bring a small amount of water to a boil preferably in a double boiler. Add clean fiddleheads and steam for 10-12 minutes.
Note: Fiddlehead ferns MUST be properly boiled or steamed prior to sautéing, stir-frying, or any other cooking method.
A Simple Recipe
Here’s a simple dish that ended up being the perfect place to include some fiddleheads. I prepared them by boiling them for 15 minutes, then drained and set them aside. Raw cauliflower went into the food processor for a quick couple of pulses to make cauliflower rice. Then, I sautéed the “rice” with a little olive oil and salt until it was tender. I cut the stems of some Trumpet mushrooms I had gotten at the farmers’ market to make scallops and seared them with a little vegan butter, capers, and a sprinkle of salt. (Any mushrooms would work just as well here.) When they were browned on both sides, I tossed in the fiddleheads so all the flavors could mingle together then spooned everything over the cauliflower rice. It just doesn’t get any better than that. Low carb, fresh, seasonal, and vegan!